[Taxacom] Why stability?

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Apr 30 18:08:25 CDT 2015

Here is a good example of an actual identification (by me) in actual practice: 


When I saw the posted photo, I immediately thought Crambidae, but I had absolutely no idea of genus or species, because I am not very familiar with N.Z. crambids. However, the local lepidopterist (Dr. Robert Hoare) has created an image gallery with photos of one (or two) specimen(s) of each N.Z. species of that family (possibly not quite all of them), see: http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/resources/identification/animals/large-moths/image-gallery/crambidae/crambidae. Browsing the gallery, I found one image which, in my estimation, is a virtually perfect match (http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/__data/assets/image/0017/73007/Gadira_acerella.jpg), while none of the other images are very close at all. Although it is not quite 100% certain, I am 95+% confident that it is the same species, which is a  good enough level of certainty for most IDs (and certainly good enough for this example). Nevertheless, I still have no "taxonomic concept" of the species. I
 simply trust Robert as a reliable source, and trust my own judgement of what constitutes a good match. I just don't see how to apply Rich's ideas to this sort of identification - a sort that is very common.


On Fri, 1/5/15, Gaurav Vaidya <gaurav at ggvaidya.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
 To: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 Cc: "Taxacom" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Friday, 1 May, 2015, 10:53 AM
 Hi Stephen,
 > On 30 Apr 2015, at 4:27 pm, Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 > I think your confusion may stem from not keeping in
 mind the dialectic context in which I made my comments. I
 was responding to others who had suggested that authors
 should always cite the publication used for the
 identification of any species that they mention. Basically,
 their motivation is probably merely to increase citation
 rates in taxonomy. My comment was intended to point out
 that, in a great many cases, identifications are not made
 using any specific publication, even identifications down to
 the species level. Many names do not have any well defined
 "taxonomic concepts" associated with them, but may
 nevertheless be names for distinctive species which are
 easily identified by direct comparison of specimens (given a
 bit of experience with the group). For something of an
 example, I'm sure you can recognise a giraffe if you see
 one, but you probably cannot point to any well defined
 "taxonomic concept" (or, if you can, you didn't rely on it
 to make
 > the identification).
 Sure you can! Rich gave an excellent example earlier: the
 Mammal Species of the World, 3rd Edition (MSW3) checklist,
 which gives you a simple definition of a giraffe relative to
 other closely related taxa that you can work with.
 > In many cases, identifications may be based on a very
 complex set of things, including several publications and
 specimens examined, which would not be easy or even possible
 to spell out as "sensu ..." or "sec ..." Sometimes, for
 example, one does use a publication to identify a specimen,
 but the key may give a different result to the description,
 and both may give a different result to comparing a specimen
 with the illustrations in the publication. Identification is
 more of a "wholistic" thing, taking into account all
 available evidence. Also, your idea of citing something like
 "sensu Person who identified it for me" wouldn't count for
 citation metrics, so really isn't what this dialectic was
 originally about.
 The point here isn’t how the identification comes about,
 but what name is being attached to it. It absolutely takes a
 huge amount of skill and knowledge to identify an individual
 as a giraffe, particularly if you don’t have a whole
 animal to look at. But when you make an identification
 (“voucher #ABC123 is _Giraffa camelopardalis_ (Linnaeus,
 1758)”), the question becomes: what do you mean by
 “Giraffa camelopardalis” in this context? For example,
 do you agree with Thomas (1901: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/35988584) that _G.
 camelopardalis reticulata_ should be treated as a separate
 species, or with the modern view that it is a subspecies of
 _camelopardalis_? If at some future date _reticulata_ is
 split back out of _camelopardalis_, should voucher #ABC123
 provisionally remain with _camelopardalis_ sensu stricto, or
 should it be marked as “_camelopardalis_ or
 _reticulata_” until it can be reidentified? One way of
 doing this is to add “sensu MSW3”, which makes it
 explicit that you’re thinking of the _camelopardalis_ that
 includes _reticulata_ (http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=14200476),
 whatever the fate of these taxa will eventually be.

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